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News 8 Exclusive: Secret 'Covert Canyon' Training Camp Operating In Alpine

News8 (2007-05-23) Marc Halcon

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Helicopters landing, machine guns, sniper shooting -- It's similar to a controversial Blackwater facility planned for Potrero. But this camp is already up and running in Alpine, and nobody seems to know about it. In this exclusive News 8 investigation, Steve Price goes inside the secret training camp known as "Covert Canyon."

Mark Halcon is the owner of a secret training facility known only to military and law enforcement officers as Covert Canyon. The 160-acre facility is nestled in the hills east of Alpine off Japatul Road.

The first thing you notice is the aircraft landing strip that doubles as a rifle range.

"It's 850 yards long, which is the longest privately owned rifle range in the county," Halcon said.

Halcon has lived at Covert Canyon for the past two years.

"Primarily used for small arms, hand guns, tactical movement training," he said.

Halcon estimates he's hosted hundreds of military personnel and law enforcement officers who come here to train with weapons, in secret.

"We've had two helicopters land here since we've opened," he said.

Halcon has a permit to own and transport machine guns through his other business in Kearny Mesa, American Shooting Center.

The military also shoots machine guns at Covert Canyon.

Halcon says military and police agencies like to use Covert Canyon because it's close to San Diego, and it operates under the radar.

"I've been here for two years, trained a fair amount of people and the people who need to know we're here are here," Halcon said.

Halcon's neighbors definitely know he's here, and they're not happy about it.

Clark and Robin Williams live right next door to Covert Canyon.

"Back in the 80s, I purchased this property with the idea of retiring here," Clark said.

"I'm a Vietnam War veteran, so is my husband," Robin said. "We came here for peace and quiet, not to fight the war again."

It's called Covert Canyon, and the name is appropriate, because all of this was built without a permit, and without the county knowing what was going on.

News 8 contacted the San Diego County Planning Department and showed them the Covert Canyon website. Planning chief Jeff Murphy says helicopters should not be taking off and landing there.

"No, he cannot land aircraft on the site without a major use permit," Murphy explained.

We also told Murphy about the machine gun ranges and sniper training.

"Any operation of the gun range is prohibited until he gets those permits," he said. "If we get a complaint or if we drive by and see their operation, we will issue them a stop work notice."

Turns out, another paramilitary training facility is currently applying to get a county permit to operate in Potrero. It's called Blackwater USA. The company trains civilian bodyguards for private security in places like Iraq.

"The owners of Blackwater I consider friends. I know them quite well. I actually subcontracted for them 5 years ago," Halcon said.

The opposition to Blackwater has been fierce by Potrero residents, and the facility may or may not be approved.

Halcon says Covert Canyon is different.

"We're not catering to civilians. We don't allow civilians up here. The people who come up here are strictly military and law enforcement," he said.

"This is not a safe environment for this type of activity," Williams said. "This land you see here is not Iraq, and it's not Iran.They can go somewhere else for that."

Despite the opposition, Halcon is standing by his line of work.

"I sleep very well at night based on what I do," he said.

The county says Halcon will not be penalized for operating Covert Canyon for the past two years without a permit. Meanwhile, Halcon has hired a consulting firm to help him apply for a legal county permit. There will be opportunities for public comment along the way.

News 8 Exclusive: County Shuts Down Training Camp At "Covert Canyon"

Last Updated: 05-25-07 at 11:18AM

A para-military training camp operating in Alpine without a permit has been shut down by the county. This action follows a News 8 investigation that exposed what was happening at Covert Canyon.

The sound of gunfire at the Covert Canyon Training Camp in Alpine has been silenced.

County Supervisor Dianne Jacob says she's closing the place down.

"This property owner is operating illegally and he needs to play by the rules," she explained.

Jacob is talking about Marc Halcon, who's been operating the 160 acre paramilitary training camp for the past two years without a county permit.

Jacob says the county will issue an immediate cease and desist order.

"This property is zoned for a specific purpose, not as a firing range, and not for training personnel," Jacob continued.

Earlier this week, Halcon gave News 8 an exclusive tour of the facility, which includes three gun ranges, machine gun training and helicopter landing zones.

Halcon also told News 8 that hundreds of military and law enforcement personnel have trained here.

"Over the past two years the largest unit we've had out here was 24 people for one day," remarked Halcon.

But neighbors were getting fed up with the gunfire and the traffic.

"The owner of the property is in the business of training the military. Why?" asked neighbor Robin Williams. "There's money to be made and my neighbor is profiting from it."

Covert Canyon in Alpine is similar to another paramilitary training camp that's proposed further south in Potrero.

A company called Blackwater USA wants to build on that site, but opposition from Potrero residents has been fierce.

It turns out that Blackwater and Covert Canyon may have more in common than combat training.

Documents obtained by News 8 show Marc Halcon, the owner of Covert Canyon, was once listed as a corporate agent of Blackwater.

A 2003 statement of corporate officers was filed with the California Secretary of State's office by the Blackwater company itself.

It lists Halcon as a registered agent for Blackwater.

News 8 showed the documents to Halcon.

"I can tell you, this is the first time I have been aware of this," said Halcon. "This is absolutely false. I am not an agent of Blackwater."

After that exchange, Halcon posted a written response on his website. It says, in part:

"Covert Canyon Training Center is in no way related to Blackwater..."

And that Blackwater filed the document...

"... completely without Mr. Halcon's knowledge and without his consent."

The document does not contain Halcon's signature.

Blackwater did not respond to News 8's request for an explanation of why Halcon's name is listed.

An attorney for Covert Canyon says they will comply with the county's cease and desist order and stop all training at the camp.

Halcon has already started the long process of applying for a county permit to re-open.

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Title News 8 Exclusive: Secret 'Covert Canyon' Training Camp Operating In Alpine
Publisher News8
Author Marc Halcon
Pub Date 2007-05-23
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Note [Includes two parts]
Keywords Blackwater
Media Type Video
Curator Rating Highlighted
Author Name Sortable
Topic revision: r6 - 2008-04-26, RaymondLutz
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